Homebrew "touch" (flex) sensors (N&V June 2009)

Did anyone else notice John Iovine's article "How to Make
Bi-Directional Flex Sensors" in the June issue of Nuts & Volts
While resistive flex sensors have been available for several years,
they haven't been cheap, and the shape options have been a bit
limited. Mr. Iovine's article suggests that these could be
home-built, shaped-to-order, and inexpensive enough that that many
of these could be added to a robot without blowing a hobbyist's
The sensor design seemed simple enough: a sandwich made up of a
strip of thin and flexible plastic (stiffener), two strips of thin
copper surrounding a resistive layer of some sort, and shrink-wrap
tubing to keep the ham and cheese... er, "conductive layers" from
squishing out. The resistive layer might be tricky (_cloth_??), but
I was fairly sure I had some black conductive bags around here
"somewhere" (translation: only a day or two of digging ).
And it looks like Mr. Iovine's approach would make it possible to
design (say) a flex sensor that could report, with reasonable
accuracy, human finger flexing by using a "club sandwich"
flex/copper/resistance design:
flex: ==============================
Cu1: ----------
Res1: oooooooooo
Cu2: --------------------
Res2: oooooooooo
Cu3: --------------------
Res3: oooooooooo
Cu4: ----------
Layer Cu3 might look like this from above (not to scale) if you
wanted all terminals to be at one end of the sensor:
----------------+R2R2R2R2 |
|R2R2R2R2 |
|R2R2R2R2 |
|R2R2R2R2 |
|R2R2R2R2 |
|R2R2R2R2 |
So I went exploring Saturday afternoon. It looks like I need a new
set of places to look for oddments: the two big local art/craft
stores (Micheals, Ben Franklin) could provide sheet copper for
"embossing", but two thicknesses of their 36ga stuff seemed a bit
stiff for small robot sensors. No luck on flexible plastic.
Home Depot had some rolls of copper sheet ("roof flashing") that
seemed a bit thinner, but I didn't need 12"x20' of it, not at
$33/roll. No plastic there, either. Fortunately we have one "real"
hardware store here in Richmond -- Pleasants -- but I foolishly
didn't start with them, and now I'm temporarily sidetracked.
The article mentions that parts and pre-built sensors can be ordered
from the Images Scientific Instruments 'web site:
Images Scientific Instruments
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(Based on the prices quoted there, it looks like $12 would purchase
enough material for 12 0.3"x5" sensor strips.)
Has anyone else tried making one of these? If so, what did you use,
and what were your results?
Frank McKenney
The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is
always concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of
boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there is such a
thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and
more definite dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to
conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.
-- G.K. Chesterton: Concluding Remarks on the
Importance of Orthodoxy (1905)
Frank McKenney, McKenney Associates
Richmond, Virginia / (804) 320-4887
Munged E-mail: frank uscore mckenney ayut mined spring dawt cahm (y'all)
Reply to
Frnak McKenney
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[snippety snip]
It's on the "to do" list (somewhere)
Small Parts
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has copper sheet but I don't see any that has acetate backing but that doesn't seem to be a necessary characteristic.
And, of course, McMaster-Carr (which seems to have pretty much everything) has copper foil in various form-factors.
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(BTW - stick a space character after your double-dash for the "standard" usenet sig delimiter. I.e., "-- " vice "--")
Reply to
Rich Webb
Haven't seen John's article but I'd opt for foil tape, a fairly common find at craft stores (but maybe not Michael's). Widths are from 1/4" to maybe 1", with thicknesses from 1 to 2 mil or so.
Masterfoil is a popular brand. It's used most in stained glass work, but it has many uses. I've made *capacitative* sensors out of these kinds of tapes, but never resistive. Might be an interesting experiment.
-- Gordon
Reply to
Gordon McComb
Hi, Rich. Thanks for the response.
Thank you.
Hm. Wonder if that's the same "somewhere" where I stored my black electrostatic bags, the "safe place where I can find it when I need it"?
No. I'm not exactly sure why the author specified "laminated" copper, since the laminate's insulating properties aren't used, and the separate strip of acetate (or whatever) provides the needed stiffness/springiness. Also not sure what happens to laminated copper when you solder to it: does it separate?
You did prompt me to dig up the relationship between PC board copper in "ounces" and sheet metal thickness: 1oz ~= .0012in
The copper tape listed in McMaster-Carr is .0035", which would make it roughly equivalent to "3oz copper" on a printed circuit board. With conductive adhesive, it's only $13.03 for 1/2" wide, $8 for 1/4" wide; wonder how it would change the sensor's characteristics if you put the adhesive side toward the resistive material? Presumably that wouold mean better electrical contact, but in the original (glueless) design the copper and plastic can slide a bit against one another; I wonder what happens when the three layers are "glued" together and it _can't_ slide?
Copper mesh (screen) would have a different "contact pattern" than foil/sheet: it would press against the resistive material only at the acreen's "peaks". Fewer points of contact, but more pressure at those points... hard to guess how that would affect the sensor.
Oh, and then there's copper 101, copper 110, and beryllium copper. I seem to recall beryllium-copper being used in springs; wonder if using that would let us omit the acetate strip?
Thanks for reminding me. It's not easy to see the extra space sometimes... most times... okay, ever.
Reply to
Frnak McKenney
Hi, Gordon. Thanks for joining in.
Hm. Stained glass... that sparks a memory. I may have a roll of that around here... um, "somewhere". Perhaps if I look for the electrostatic bags first...
P.S. Thank you (and Rich) for not pointing out that I misspelled the magazine name. It should have been "June 2009 SERVO" rather than "June 2009 Nuts & Volts". Sorry about that.
Reply to
Frnak McKenney

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